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Racialized mother working from home on a couch staring at a computer, with child out of focus playing on a tablet.

International Women’s Day: Remote possibilities

How a shift in locations is changing the way women work

March 8, 2024 — 

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, it would be an understatement to say that most households were caught unprepared. More than half of the Canadian workforce was sent home, basically overnight, and collectively forced to come to grips with the reality that this sudden change of workplace setting may be here to stay indefinitely. For many households, this seismic shift in standard operating procedure created an onslaught of practical hurdles, from the desperate search for dedicated office space to work from, to the many challenges of juggling parenting duties and paid labour, now that both were under the same roof for the indefinite future.

For many women, this abrupt adjustment meant a shift in their performance expectations, as their household roles – as a wife, as a mother – were now irrevocably entangled with their workplace roles.

Joanne Crozier [BID/91] is a UM Interior Design graduate and instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Her master’s thesis “Mothers of Invention: How Women Working at Home during the COVID-19 Pandemic are Reshaping the Domestic Environment” explores how this sudden household restructuring has reshaped the domestic environment for women.

While Crozier found that the specific experiences and challenges women faced during the pandemic were varied between the different households she interviewed, she also found a lot of experiential commonalities as well.

“Everybody had a different story, but there were common themes,” says Crozier.

“Mental health, for example, took a hit during COVID, for women in particular because of the responsibilities that they had, not just regarding their paid labour, but potentially to be taking care of a house, taking care of a family, or taking care of a parent. The social expectation that they take care of the domestic labour created a lot of stress and anxiety, especially when combined with trying to perform paid employment at home too.”

Another common challenge that women experienced during the pandemic was that their homes were not set up to be a place of paid work. For many, this lack of space created tension in their relationships, especially for those living in tight quarters to begin with, causing arguments between partners over whose work was more ‘valuable’ to the household. These debates often came down to which household member’s paid labour was seen to be the most financially lucrative, a debate which, because of gender pay disparities, often favoured the husband or father, who would then claim the limited private space available in the home.

Many of the women Crozier interviewed expressed frustration at how frequently they would set up a place to work, only to be forced to change locations throughout the day to accommodate other activities of their household members. For mothers, this disruption was often compounded with regular interruptions from their children, making it difficult to stay focused on their paid work.

“It’s incredibly disruptive and mentally exhausting to not have that sense of personal territory and privacy,” says Crozier.

But while this transition to remote work has presented unique obstacles for many women, Crozier says she is encouraged by how many did successfully adapt to remote work while maintaining or even increasing their productivity, and how the perception of women working from home has shifted since the pandemic.

“Things have really changed. It’s not the same socially and professionally isolating experience that it used to be,” says Crozier.

Further, the desire to work from home isn’t limited to women. My husband also worked from home during the pandemic, and he loved the flexibility. I believe that the remote-work labour model can benefit everybody.”

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